Once I finally began to feel comfortable being a runner, I created a few “bucket list” items that I thought would make running both memorable and fun.
At first I had small incremental goals. My first racing distance was a 5k. I set the goal to run without walking the entire race and I felt a sense of empowerment when I hit my goal. Through the process of time, I increased my distances to 10k, half marathon and 5-years ago, my very first full marathon. Along the way, I expanded my running goals by setting a full-blown bucket-list.
✅ Bucket-list #1- place in my age-group for a half-marathon. It took me 5 years from my very first half marathon in 2012, but hard work and consistency has helped me shave over 3-minutes off my average mile pace. I placed in my age group for the very first time in April 2017.
Bucket List #2- run a sub 1:30 half marathon and a regular 6:00 mile. I’m just over a minute from that 1:30 time goal PR and am still chipping away at my flat mile time.
✅ Bucket List #3- qualify and run in the Boston Marathon. Two years of consistent hard work helped me hit this goal in February 2018. I look forward to fulfilling this dream in 5 months.
Bucket list #4- Run an Ultra-Marathon. An ultra is any distance longer than 26.2 miles. I’m hoping to hit this goal in 2019 when I run my first 50k (36 miles) and then a full blown 50-miler.
✅ Bucket list #5- I’ve always wanted to run a race, ideally a half-marathon in a foreign land. When I made my goal to race internationally, I happened to overlook some important details, but mainly had an amazing time.
Below are a few insights I’ve gained from Bucket List #5- the things I wish I would’ve considered when planning my first international race, which was the Rock and Roll Mérida, Mexico half-marathon.
5- The beauty of sharing something you love with another culture and people. The people of Mexico are welcoming, generous, happy and full of warmth and beauty. Eager to help me despite my limited Spanish, the packet-pickup and race expo were a lot of fun.
There were festive Dio de los Muertos decorations everywhere, and even a really cool alfrenda featuring some of Rock and Roll’s and Mexico’s top musicians. This is a major holiday for Mexico, second only to Christmas.
The music, and flow of the expo made the event feel like a party you were sharing with 2,000 other runners.
There were great vendors and the race bag swag was very nice. It included a zippered pouch, coupons and snacks, and a can of yellow fin tuna and BEER!
I don’t drink alcohol so my husband and I ended up giving our beers and cans of yellow-fin tuna to our hotel concierge to share with other guests. I enjoyed seeing so many people from a different country share my love of running.
4- Weather considerations. I’m used to running in an extremely dry and relatively cool climate. I was prepared for rain and have run in high humidity before; but quickly learned no one can really accurately predict weather in a tropical climate, let alone the jungle. Most days the jungle rain is quick and heavy. A downpour for 30 minutes that throughly waters or floods everything. So when the weather forecaster said there would be an hour of showers 1-hour before the race, I knew it would pass.
My hubby and I dressed for the race and as we were leaving, the light rain convinced me to turn around and grab one of my black trash sacks. A few cuts in the bag for my head and arms and I was good to go.
Our hotel B&B was close enough to the race starting line to walk; and because the race was a loop course, we didn’t have to worry about arriving early for bus transportation to the start. At this point, the rain picked up from showers to pouring buckets. I was grateful I not only packed my trash sack all the way from home, but pleased I had the piece of mind to go back and get it.
Unbeknownst to us at the time, rain would continue for the next 3-hours. Making matters worse, the downpour not only soaked the roads with puddles, but anywhere that wasn’t a standing puddle had a lovely coating of motor oil from all the old leaking vehicles driving around Merida. We never really were able to enjoy a full strong running stride because of constant slipping and sliding around. I nearly biffed it around a sharp turn about mile 9. The whole race reminded me of some of my slick winter running adventures in Utah but this was 80° and raining. There wasn’t anything we could do about the puddles or slick streets, so we just ran with it. (Bad pun intended)
3- The inspiring patriotism of another country- We arrived at the race start, which was situated at a round-about right next to a famous Merida, Mexico point of interest called, “The Monument to the Fathers.” This majestic site is a Mayan inspired art monument that tells the history of México. At night they light the monument up with colored lights that really enhances it’s beauty.
A few pictures later, we headed to find the porta-potties and were amused to see pink colored potties marked for the girls and gray colored potties for the boys. I almost took my phone out and snapped a picture but decided that might be creepy and would really increase the stares we were already getting as tall Caucasian Americans at the race.
We found the 21k starting corrals, and I wished my hubby good luck as he made his way to the 10k corrals. I was assigned the very first starting corral based on my projected finishing time. As I lined up with the other runners, the rain kicked it up a notch as the announcer gave what I assumed was some last minute instructions. With my limited Spanish vocabulary, I asked if anyone around me spoke English. Much to my relief, a sweet woman said she did. I asked her to tell me if there was any important race details or course changes and also to notify me when we had 1 minute till race start so I could be ready.
A few official marketing race pictures later, the Mexican national anthem played and I was completely surrounded by singing.
Apparently it’s Mexican tradition to hold your hand in a blade shape near the heart as you sing. While I had no idea what was being said, I felt inspired as I witnessed their patriotism and national pride. It was a really cool moment, and a memory I won’t forget. 🇧🇬
2- Not all racing ideas are good ideas. This race wasn’t my best race. Despite being able to run a time fast enough to actually be competitive in this race, (both last years winner and this years first place finisher ran a 1:36) all of our walking around ancient Mayan ruins and sightseeing during race day definitely took a toll on my legs.
This race was also an evening run, starting at 6pm where I normally wake up, run and race in the morning.
The race course wound along some of Merida, Mexico’s most historic sites. Merida is the capital of the Mexican Yucatán so there’s a lot of fascinating history to enjoy. We ran by statues and monuments and large concrete ornate homes and buildings with massive colonnades detailed architecture. Normally the streets are crowded and filled with tons of people cheering the runners on but the heavy rain was a major deterrent. While the course was interesting, there were a couple of spots that were scary and disorienting.
We had a mile stretch down a completely dark road with no street lights to guide where we ran or stepped. The cities natural light pollution didn’t help and the moon was hid behind the dense cloud cover. Besides sliding around from motor oil, I tripped on some hidden train tracks but was able to catch myself before I took others out with me. This part of the race was just after mile 11 when runners are tired. It would’ve been nice to see where I was running instead of literally running blind.
In an effort to cut down on waste while hydrating runners, Rock and Roll Race Series contracted with Euro-water to provide all water during the race. At the aide stations runners were handed a squishy square water pouch instead of a cup. While this idea is great for many reasons, it also requires additional running talent beyond my natural capabilities to open the water pouches. You have to bite a corner of the pouch to create an opening to suck out the water. Unless of course you’re uncoordinated like me and instead grab the pouch and bite, but some how manage to explode the water all over yourself, soaking you even more than you’re already sweaty and wet. I tried walking and biting at the next aide station and the results were exactly the same.
Lastly, Rock and Roll Merida thought it would be a blast for runners to finish in a soccer stadium during a full on rock concert! While the idea isn’t bad, the set up was not runner friendly. Upon entering the stadium, runners were corralled and required to run in the dark from the street to the grass, to a hardened sandpit surface, back over grass and right next to the performance stage. With a roaring fan crowd on the left, a rock concert stage, dark neon lights and full blast speakers to the right; all finishing runners were blinded and nearly deaf running over crazy uneven surfaces until you eventually hit the track and turned to see the finish line. Luckily, I didn’t trip, but the music was crazy loud even through my AirPods in my ears. I finished 5th out of 110 in my age group with a time of 1:54.
1- The challenge of a language barrier. This might seem like an obvious concern, but I didn’t realize how much I would miss communicating with people, especially those who were graciously trying to help me.
I’ve ran enough races to know the standard protocol for expos and events, but asking even simple questions about the race became quite and ordeal. It’s a good thing “photo” translates clear enough by miming snapping a picture, gesturing to my phone, and then handing my phone to someone who kindly said yes.
I’m grateful people were patient and helpful, but if I would’ve needed major medical care from an injury or illness during the race, things would’ve gotten complicated fast. Not being a Spanish speaker definitely hampered my ability to understand everything going on around me, thank others, ask about race results and see if there were any last minute announcements or changes to the race course.
I believe speaking someone else’s language in their country demonstrates that you respect and honor them enough to truly learn who they are. Above all, I would’ve loved to communicate how much I admired their cities, people, food, natural beauty and culture. If I ever go back to Mexico, I’d like it to be with someone who speaks Spanish.
The Rock and Roll Merida, Mexico half marathon was a a memorable adventure. It was fun to cross another item off my bucket list. I look forward to the day I can run again in a foreign land. 🇧🇬